Pakistan dismisses head of powerful spy agency after only eight months on the job

Lieutenant General Asim MunirIn a surprising move the Pakistani military has dismissed the head of the powerful Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) spy agency just eight months after appointing him to that position. The decision was announced on Sunday in a brief statement by the Inter-Services Public Relations, the public-relations wing of the Pakistan Armed Forces. The statement said that Lieutenant General Asim Munir had stepped down from his post as director of ISI and would take over as commander of the Gujranwala Corps in Punjab, Pakistan’s second-largest province. The statement did not explain the reasons for the reshuffle; the latter came as a surprise, as ISI directors typically serve for at least three years in that post. General Munir’s tenure began in October of this year.

General Munir has been replaced by Lieutenant General Faiz Hameed, who until this latest appointment was head of the ISI’s counterintelligence directorate. Last October, when General Munir was promoted to ISI director, Hameed was promoted to the rank of three-star general. In April he was promoted again, this time from major general to lieutenant general, and was appointed Adjutant General at the General Headquarters of the Pakistan Armed Forces. His meteoric rise in the ISI has won him several devotees and he is seen as an influential intelligence planner in the ranks of the powerful spy agency. He rose to prominence outside of the ISI in late 2017, when he personally mediated to broker a deal between the government of then-Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and leaders of the so-called Ahmadiyya community. Followers of the Ahmadiyya movement, a messianic Muslim sect with a substantial following in the Punjab, had taken to the streets to complain of discrimination and harassment by the authorities. According to media reports at the time, Hameed threatened to use the Pakistani Army against the Ahmadiyya protesters if they did not scale down their public protests. Such reports cause some in Pakistan to view Hameed as a military hardliner and a firm believer in the view of the military as the guarantor of political normalcy in Pakistan.

Meanwhile in an unrelated development Indian officials said on Sunday that Islamabad had alerted Delhi of a possible attack by al-Qaeda in a region of Indian-administered Kashmir. Media reports said that Indian officials had been warned by the ISI that al-Qaeda forces planned to carry out “a major terror strike” in the Pulwama region of southern Kashmir. Security observers noted the move as a rare instance of intelligence cooperation between the two rival nuclear-armed nations. As a result, India said it had deployed nearly 500 additional companies of police officers in the southern Kashmir region.

Author: Ian Allen | Date: 17 June 2019 | Permalink

Pakistan’s ex-spy chief stripped of army pension for writing controversial book

Asad DurraniThe former director of Pakistan’s powerful intelligence agency has been stripped of his military pension and associated benefits for co-authoring a controversial book about intelligence with his Indian counterpart. Lieutenant General Asad Durrani (ret.) served as director-general of Pakistan’s Directorate for Military Intelligence between 1988 and 1989. From 1990 to 1992 he was director of the Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate, which is arguably Pakistan’s most powerful government institution. Durrani, 78, has been severely criticized in some Pakistani nationalist circles for co-authoring a book entitled The Spy Chronicles: RAW, ISI and the Illusion of Peace, with his Indian counterpart, A.S. Daulat. Daulat, 79, headed India’s Research and Analysis Wing from 1999 to 2000.

The book was edited by the widely respected Indian journalist Aditya Sinha. It contains details about Pakistan’s systematic efforts to foment armed unrest in the heavily Muslim Indian state of Kashmir, for instance by funding and training a host of Islamist paramilitary organizations that operate in the disputed region. The book also claims that the Pakistani government was aware of the whereabouts of Osama bin Laden in 2011, and that it worked closely with the United States to kill the co-founder of al-Qaeda. Islamabad has consistently denied allegations that it knew of bin Laden’s hideout in the city of Abbottabad, and that it gave permission to US Special Forces troops to raid his compound.

Last Friday, Pakistan Army spokesman Major General Asif Ghafoor announced that a military court had found Durrani guilty of having violated the military code of conduct of the Pakistan Armed Forces. Consequently, he said, the retired general would be stripped of his Army pension and all associated benefits. The military court had conferred behind closed doors, said Ghafoor, adding that he was unable to provide further details on the case. Meanwhile, the Islamabad High Court announced on Thursday that it rejected a plea by Durrani’s lawyers to have his name removed from Pakistan’s Exit Control List. The list contains names of individuals who are prohibited from leaving Pakistan for reasons relating to corruption, economic crime, as well as terrorism and drug-related activity, among other violations. Durrani was placed on that list in March of last year, shortly after his controversial book was published in India.

During the same press briefing on Friday, Ghafoor also said that two Pakistani military officers had been placed in custody facing espionage charges. The Pakistan Army spokesman gave no information about the officers’ names or the countries for which they allegedly spied for.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 25 February 2019 | Permalink

Hardline military official to take command of Pakistan’s powerful spy agency

Lieutenant General Asim MunirThe hardline former director of Pakistan’s military intelligence agency is preparing to take the helm of the country’s powerful spy agency, the Inter-Services Intelligence directorate (ISI). Lieutenant General Asim Munir, who has spent more than two decades as a career military officer, has been officially appointed as director-general of ISI. In one of his first notable assignments, Munir served as a military attaché in Pakistan’s embassy in Saudi Arabia. After being promoted to a two-star general, he was appointed commander of Force Command Northern Areas in Gilgit-Baltistan, Pakistan’s northernmost region. The area borders Jammu and Kashmir, an autonomous Indian-administered region, which the Pakistanis claim belongs to them. Gilgit-Baltistan is also a strategic geopolitical corridor that connects Pakistan with one of its major regional allies, China.

In late 2016, after concluding his service in Gilgit-Baltistan, Munir was appointed by Chief of the Pakistan Army Staff General Qamar Javed Bajwa to serve as director-general of Military Intelligence, the spy wing of the Pakistan Army. In September of this year, Munir was promoted to lieutenant general, a move that prompted rumors that he would soon become head of ISI. According to The Asia Times, which published a summary analysis of Munir’s career, his recent promotion confirmed that he was “the army chief [General Bajwa]’s guy” and that he was favored to lead the ISI. Technically it is Pakistan’s prime minister who appoints the head of ISI. But in reality the chief of the Army is the one who selects the spy agency’s director. The past four directors of the ISI have all been handpicked by Pakistan’s military leadership.

Munir’s appointment as head of Pakistan’s most powerful spy agency was due to his experience in working closely with Pakistan’s most important strategic partners, China and Saudi Arabia, said The Asia Times. The career military officer is known within army ranks as a nationalist hardliner who views the army as a central guarantor of political stability in Pakistan. He is also a practicing Muslim and has sought to strengthen the ties between Islam and the Pakistani armed forces. According to The Asia Times, Munir is expected to deepen the ISI’s involvement in Pakistan’s domestic political affairs. This is something that concerns pro-democracy and other opposition activists in the country, who have been alarmed by the recent rise to power of /Imran Khan, a former cricket player and Pakistan’s newly elected prime minister. Munir will be formally sworn in his new position on October 25, when the current director-general of ISI, Lieutenant General Naveed Mukhtar, is expected to announce his retirement.

Author: Ian Allen | Date: 19 October 2018 | Permalink

Pakistan removes judge who accused spy agency of trying to rig general election

Shaukat Aziz SiddiquiThe government of Pakistan has dismissed a High Court judge who accused the country’s powerful intelligence agency of interfering with the judicial process in order to rig the outcome of last July’s general election. On July 25, the governing center-right Pakistan Muslim League – Nawaz (PML-N) was unseated by the conservative-centrist Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf, headed by former cricket star Imran Khan. The elections took place amidst a corruption scandal that saw Nawaz Sharif, former prime minister of Pakistan and leading member of PML-N, arrested on charges of fraud. Sharif was charged following the release of the so-called Panama papers, the massive data leak of documents belonging to Panamanian offshore firm Mossack Fonseca. The leak disclosed that Sharif and his family were owners of a large number of high-end properties in the United Kingdom and elsewhere around the world.

Shortly after the revelations, Sharif moved to Britain, where he and his children cared for his ailing wife. During his absence, he was sentenced in absentia to ten years in prison. Sharif chose to return to Pakistan on July 13, less than two weeks prior to the general election, and was arrested upon arriving in Islamabad. His supporters claim that the media spectacle surrounding his imprisonment severely hurt PML-N’s electoral performance. Last month, the High Court in Islamabad suspended Sharif’s prison sentence and ordered his release on bail, saying that the prosecution had failed to prove conclusively that the high-end properties in the UK belonged to him. Sharif’s release prompted renewed accusations of electoral rigging by PML-N supporters, who claim that Sharif could have been released from prison before the elections, and that the High Court deliberately withheld its decision until this month in order to hurt PML-N.

In July, Shaukat Aziz Siddiqui, a High Court judge, publicly added his voice to those claiming that Sharif’s arrest had been politically motivated. In a speech given before the Rawalpindi Bar Association, the High Court judge accused Pakistan’s powerful Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate (ISI) of exercising pressure on High Court judges in order to delay the decision to release Sharif on bail until after the general election. Justice Siddiqui’s charges made national headlines and prompted strong denials from the Pakistani military, which governs the ISI, and the Pakistan High Court. The latter launched an investigation of Justice Siddiqui, following a complaint issued by the country’s military leadership.

On Friday, the panel of judges that carried out the investigation on Justice Siddiqui, accused him of “conduct unbecoming of a judge of a high court” and recommended his removal from the High Court. On the same day, the Ministry of Justice of Pakistan announced that the country’s President, Arif Alvi, was “pleased to remove Mr. Justice Shaukat Aziz Siddiqui […] from his office with immediate effect”. The announcement did not elaborate on the precise reasons that led to Justice Siddiqui’s removal from the country’s High Court. Siddiqui’s firing marks the first time that a judge has been dismissed under an elected government in Pakistan. In the past, such incidents have occurred only under military dictatorships, which have ruled Pakistan for prolonged periods since the country’s independence in 1947.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 15 October 2018 | Permalink

Pakistan bars its former spy chief from leaving the country over controversial book

Asad DurraniPakistan has officially barred a former director of its powerful intelligence agency from leaving the country, after he co-authored a controversial book with his Indian counterpart. Asad Durrani is a retired Pakistani Army general who served as director-general of Pakistan’s Directorate for Military Intelligence between 1988 and 1989. From 1990 to 1992, he served as director of the Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate, arguably Pakistan’s most powerful government institution. Durrani, 77, has been severely criticized in some Pakistani circles for co-authoring a book entitled The Spy Chronicles: RAW, ISI and the Illusion of Peace, with his Indian counterpart, A.S. Daulat. Daulat, 78, headed India’s Research and Analysis Wing from 1999 to 2000.

The book, which was edited by the widely respected Indian journalist Aditya Sinha, has prompted heavy criticism of its two co-authors in nationalist circles in the two rival regional powers. But Durrani’s position became more tenuous on Monday, after the government of Pakistan announced that he had been placed under formal investigation. Pakistani Army spokesman Major General Asif Ghafoor told reporters in Islamabad on Monday morning that the revelations made in Lieutenant General Durrani’s book would be investigated by a formal court of inquiry, headed by a three-star general. He also said that Durrani had been urgently summoned to the Pakistani Army’s headquarters to answer allegations that he violated the Pakistani military’s code of conduct. Additionally, Ghafoor announced that Durrani had been placed on an official government-administered “exit control list”, which means that he is not allowed to leave Pakistan until further notice.

The Pakistani armed forces have not explained the precise reasons why Durrani is under investigation. His book makes several controversial allegations relating to Islamabad’s intelligence operations. A large part of the book contains details about Pakistan’s systematic efforts to foment armed unrest in the heavily Muslim Indian state of Kashmir, for instance by funding and training a host of Islamist paramilitary organizations that operate in the disputed region. The book also claims that the Pakistani government was aware of the whereabouts of Osama bin Laden in 2011, and that it cooperated closely with the United States to kill the co-founder of al-Qaeda. Islamabad has consistently denied allegations that it knew of bin Laden’s hideout in the city of Abbottabad, and that it gave permission to US Special Forces troops to raid his compound. If Durrani is charged with having violated the Pakistani military’s code of conduct, he could face a minimum of two years in prison.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 30 May 2018 | Permalink

India arrests commando instructor who fell for Pakistani honey trap on Facebook

Garud Commando ForceIndian authorities have arrested an Indian Air Force officer for allegedly giving classified documents to two Pakistani spies on Facebook, who posed as women interested in him. The officer has been named as Arun Marwaha, a wing commander stationed at the Indian Air Force headquarters in Delhi. Marwaha, 51, is a para-jumping instructor who trains members of India’s Garud Commando Force —the Special Forces unit of the Indian Air Force. He was reportedly due to retire in 2019.

According to Indian government investigators, several months ago Marwaha was befriended by two Facebook users who claimed to be Indian women. He began chatting regularly with them on Facebook and eventually on the popular cell phone messenger service WhatsApp. Within weeks, Marwaha’s WhatsApp exchanges with the women had become intimate in nature. Before long, the Indian Air Force instructor was providing the women with classified documents in return for intimate photos of themselves. Media reports state that the classified documents related to special operations, some involving cyberwarfare, and space reconnaissance. Government investigators claim that Marwaha’s Facebook contacts were in fact male officers of Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), who targeted Marwaha in a carefully planned honey trap operation.

According to reports, the breach caused by Marwaha was discovered last month, at which time the internal security branch of the Indian Air Force launched an investigation. Marwaha was questioned for over a week before turning over his case to Delhi Police, who arrested him on Thursday. He has reportedly been charged under India’s Official Secrets Act and is facing a jail sentence of up to 14 years. Meanwhile, the Indian Air Force is investigating whether other officers have fallen victims to similar honey trap operations by Pakistan’s ISI on Facebook.

Author: Ian Allen | Date: 09 January 2018 | Permalink

Ex-CIA contractor says Pakistan’s leaders helped him escape murder charges

Raymond Allen DavisA former contractor for the United States Central Intelligence Agency, who was released from a Pakistani prison in 2011 despite being implicated in a double murder there, says he was freed with the help of senior Pakistani officials. Raymond Allen Davis was a CIA contractor posted in the US consulate in Pakistan’s Punjabi capital, Lahore, which is also the country’s second-largest city. It has been suggested that, for a while, Davis was the CIA’s acting station chief in Lahore, thus technically the most senior American intelligence officer in Punjab.

On January 27, 2011, while driving in downtown Lahore, Davis opened fire against two men riding on a motorcycle, killing them instantly. Soon after the incident, Davis appears to have contacted the US consulate in Lahore, which rapidly dispatched a consular vehicle to remove him from the scene of the shooting. However, the vehicle was unable to reach Davis, who was surrounded by an angry crowd. Unable to pick up Davis, the car then returned to the consulate after running down and killing a motorcyclist who was unconnected with the earlier incident. Eventually Davis was arrested and charged with double murder and illegal possession of a firearm. The Pakistani government dismissed Washington’s assertion that Davis was an accredited diplomat, and was thus not subject to Pakistan’s legal system because of his diplomatic immunity. With public opinion in Pakistan heavily against Davis, the case sparked a diplomatic crisis between Washington and Islamabad. Unexpectedly, however, Davis was released in March of the same year, after the families of the two men he killed appeared in court and said they forgave him and wanted him to be pardoned. It later emerged that the families of the murdered men had been given a total of $2.4 million as compensation for their deaths.

Read more of this post

New director appointed to head Pakistan’s all-powerful intelligence agency

 Lt. Gen. Naveed MukhtarA new director, with considerable experience in counterterrorism, has been appointed to lead Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), believed by some to be one of the most powerful spy agencies in the world. Pakistan’s Ministry of Defense announced on Sunday that Lt. Gen. Naveed Mukhtar will be replacing Lt. Gen. Rizwan Akhtar, who has led the ISI since November of 2014. The appointment of Gen. Mukhtar comes less than a month after a major change of leadership in the Pakistani military, which saw the appointment of General Javed Qamar Bajwa as the new Chief of Army Staff. It is believed that the appointment of the new ISI director represents a personal choice of the newly appointed Gen. Bajwa.

Both the outgoing and incoming directors of the ISI are from the same generation of military officers, having been commissioned in 1982 and 1983 respectively. Both attended Pakistan’s prestigious National Defense University and earned graduate degrees at the United States Army War College in Pennsylvania. But while Gen. Akhtar specializes in counterinsurgency, and spent much of his career in Pakistan’s Federally Administered Tribal Areas, his successor, Gen. Mukhtar, has a background in intelligence with a focus on counterterrorism. Although he most recently served in Karachi, Pakistan’s largest and most populous metropolitan center, Gen. Mukhtar made his mark in the military by leading the ISI’s counterterrorism branch in the capital Islamabad. It is said, therefore, that his appointment to the directorship of the ISI may signal a turn away from running Taliban agents in Afghanistan, for which the ISI is notorious, and concentrating instead of combatting militant groups at home.

The change in the ISI’s leadership comes at a particularly complicated period in Pakistani security. The country’s relations with its neighbor and arch-nemesis India are experiencing a major crisis following the so-called ‘summer of unrest’ in Kashmir. The term refers to a period of tension between the two countries, sparked by popular unrest and violent protests by the predominantly Muslim inhabitants of the Indian-administered region of Jammu and Kashmir. The region remained under a military curfew for nearly two months, during which nearly 100 people died and over 15,000 were injured. There are some in Islamabad who believe that Gen. Akhtar was removed from the ISI because he failed to contain the unrest in Kashmir. He has now been appointed president of Pakistan’s National Defense University in Islamabad.

Author: Ian Allen | Date: 13 December 2016 | Permalink

Did Pakistan poison the CIA station chief in Islamabad?

US embassy Islamabad PakistanA leading article in The Washington Post suggests that the United States Central Intelligence Agency suspected that its most senior officer in Pakistan was poisoned by the host country’s intelligence services, in an attempt to kill him. The CIA pulled its station chief from Islamabad in the summer of 2011, two months after Operation NEPTUNE SPEAR, which saw the killing in Abbottabad of al-Qaeda founder Osama bin Laden. The CIA official, who has since been identified as Mark Kelton, acted as the senior US intelligence representative in the Asian country. He had assumed the post, which was supposed to last at least two years, only seven months earlier. His abrupt removal raised questions, which were informally answered by Langley. There were rumors that Kelton’s return to the US was health-related, but that the decision to replace him was also affected by his extremely poor relations with the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) directorate, Pakistan’s powerful spy service.

On Thursday, however, The Washington Post’s Greg Miller said in a leading article that Kelton’s illness, which led to his replacement, had been so violent that it led him and others in the CIA to suspect that he had been poisoned. Prior to replacing him, the Agency had repeatedly flown the official back to the US for medical treatment, which proved fruitless. Eventually, some at Langley began to examine the possibility that the Pakistanis had poisoned Kelton, at a time when relations between the CIA and the ISI had sunk to unprecedented lows. Miller cites unnamed US intelligence officials who confirmed that the CIA had strong suspicions that Kelton had been deliberately poisoned. Even if the suspicions were groundless, said Miller, “the idea that the CIA and its station chief considered the ISI capable of such an act suggests that the breakdown in trust [between the two agencies] was even worse than widely assumed”.

Kelton has since recovered and assumed the post of deputy director for counterintelligence at the CIA before retiring from the Agency. The 59-year-old has since revealed his CIA background and even spoke with Miller on the phone as the Post correspondent was preparing his story. Although he declined Miller’s request for a detailed interview, the former CIA Islamabad station chief said that the initial suspicions about his poisoning “did not originate with” him. He added, however, that he would “rather let that whole episode lie”. The CIA told Miller that it had not uncovered any concrete evidence that the elements in the Pakistani government had poisoned Kelton. The embassy of Pakistan in Washington told The Washington Post that Miller’s story was “fictional and not worthy of comment”.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 06 May 2016 | Permalink

Were Pakistani spies behind 2009 attack that killed seven CIA employees?

FOB ChapmanTwo recently declassified United States government documents suggest that Pakistani intelligence officers may have been behind a suicide attack that killed seven employees of the Central Intelligence Agency in Afghanistan. The attack took place at the Forward Operating Base Chapman, a US military outpost in Khost, Afghanistan. It was carried out by Humam al-Balawi, a Jordanian doctor who posed as a disillusioned member of al-Qaeda and had convinced his CIA handlers that he could lead them to the whereabouts of al-Qaeda’s deputy Emir, Ayman al-Zawahiri. During a scheduled visit to FOB Chapman on December 30, 2009, al-Balawi detonated a suicide vest, instantly killing himself and nine other people, including a Jordanian intelligence officer and seven CIA employees. The bloody incident, which marked the most lethal attack against the CIA in nearly three decades, was widely blamed on al-Qaeda and the Pakistani Taliban.

However, a set of newly released US State Department cables seem to suggest that Pakistani intelligence may have been behind the attack. The documents were released by George Washington University’s National Security Archive through a Freedom of Information Act request. One document, dated January 11, 2010, discusses the FOB Chapman attack in association with the Haqqani network, a Taliban-aligned Pashtun militant group that operates in Afghanistan but is headquartered in Pakistan. Western security observers have long considered the Haqqani network to be a paramilitary arm of Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) directorate. The January 11 State Department cable suggests that senior Haqqani network operatives met with their ISI handlers at least twice in the weeks prior to the FOB Chapman attack. Another cable, dated February 6, 2010, suggests that the ISI gave the Haqqani operatives $200,000 to step up attacks against Western forces in Afghanistan. A specific order was given at the meeting to carry out “the attack on Chapman [and] to enable a suicide mission by an unnamed Jordanian national”, presumably al-Balawi.

But an unnamed US intelligence official, who read the declassified documents, told the Associated Press news agency that the documents were “information report[s], not finally evaluated intelligence”. The material was thus “raw, unverified and uncorroborated”, said the official, and clashed with the broad consensus in the US Intelligence Community, which was that the attack was planned by al-Qaeda, not by the Haqqani network. The Associated Press contacted the Pakistani embassy in Washington, DC, about the National Security Archive revelations, but received no response.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 19 April 2016 | Permalink

Pakistani spies fear up to 100 million citizen records may have been stolen

NADRAA report by Pakistan’s main intelligence agency warns that the personal records of up to 100 million Pakistanis may have been stolen by foreign intelligence agencies due to the alleged links of a software vendor with Israel. The Inter-Services Intelligence directorate (ISI), Pakistan’s premier spy agency, said that the software used by the National Data base and Registration Authority (NADRA), which issues national identity cards on behalf of the government of Pakistan, is not secure and should be replaced by an “indigenous” software product.

Established in 1998 as the National Database Organization, NADRA operates under Pakistan’s Ministry of the Interior. Its main mission is to register and fingerprint every Pakistani citizen and supply every adult in the country with a secure Computerized National Identity Card. This has proven to be a Herculean task in a country of 182 million, of whom just over half are over the age of 18. Consequently, the NADRA electronic database contains files on over 96 million Pakistanis, making it one of the world’s largest centralized databases.

But the ISI warned in a recently authored report that the NADRA database may have been compromised through the software that the agency uses to digitize and store fingerprints. According to the Pakistani newspaper Express Tribune, which published a summary of the ISI report on Monday, “the thumb-digitiser system [used by NADRA] was purchased from a French company of Israeli origin”. The report refers to the Automatic Finger Print Identification System, known as AFIS, which NADRA has been using since 2004. The software was purchased for close to $10 million from Segem (now called Morpho), a leading global vendor of identity software. The company is based in France, but the ISI report states that has connections with Israel, a country that Pakistan does not officially recognize and has no diplomatic relations with. Because of that, says the ISI report, the entire content of NADRA’s database may have been accessed by the Israeli Mossad, the United States Central Intelligence Agency, India’s Research and Analysis Wing, and other spy agencies seen as “hostile” by Islamabad.

Officials from NADRA refused to respond to the Express Tribune’s allegations, or to acknowledge that the ISI had indeed contacted the agency with concerns about the AFIS database. But a NADRA senior technical expert, who spoke anonymously to the paper, claimed that the ISI’s concerns were unfounded, since NADRA’s servers were not connected to the World Wide Web and were therefore impossible to access from the outside. Another NADRA official told the Express Tribune that Segem was the only international vendor of fingerprint recognition systems in 2004, when NADRA purchased the software product. Additionally, the Ministry of the Interior successfully sought ISI’s approval prior to purchasing the software. Last but not least, NADRA officials pointed out that the Pakistani Armed Forces are also using Segem software products.

Author: Ian Allen | Date: 15 September 2015 | Permalink

Pakistan spy chief who helped US covert activities in Soviet-Afghan war dies

Hamid GulGeneral Hamid Gul, a controversial Pakistani spymaster who helped facilitate America’s covert involvement during the closing stages of the Soviet-Afghan war, has died at the age of 72. General Gul entered military service in 1956, aged 20, and saw action in two of Pakistan’s wars with India. He rose to power within the military through his close association with General Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq, who became Pakistan’s sixth president in 1977. In 1987, shortly before President Zia died in a plane crash, General Gul was promoted to director of Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence directorate, which is known as ISI. In that capacity, he oversaw the closing stages of the Soviet-Afghan war, which had begun nearly a decade later and gradually led to a resounding defeat for the Soviets.

As head of the ISI, General Gul helped the intelligence agencies of several countries, including those of Saudi Arabia and the United States, engage covertly in the war taking place across the Hindu Kush. In particular, he helped facilitate the transfer of foreign funds and weaponry to Sunni mujahedeen forces who were fighting the Soviets. It was from within the ranks of these forces that groups like al-Qaeda and the Taliban later emerged.

General Gul was never shy about his close operational links with the Afghan Taliban and al-Qaeda. He maintained close contact with al-Qaeda founder Osama bin Laden and with the late Mullah Muhammad Omar, leader of the Afghan Taliban. However, at the conclusion of the Soviet-Afghan War, Washington gradually disassociated itself from Sunni fundamentalist groups, including the Taliban. But General Gul maintained his public support for Muslim-inspired militant groups, among them Lashkar-e-Taiba, which operates in Indian-controlled Kashmir. As America began distancing itself from its former Afghan allies, and siding instead with India, General Gul’s relations with Washington worsened dramatically. In 2009, the General gave one of many controversial interviews to the media, in which he condemned the increasing military and political collaboration between the US and India. He noted that “the Americans and Israel [are] hell-bent” on positioning India to the role of overseer of “60 per cent of the world’s trade [which] passes through the Indian Ocean”, including transport routes of “Gulf oil, bound for China and Japan”.

In later years, General Gul became a vocal critic of US foreign policy in the Middle East and Central Asia, spoke out against the US invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq, and publicly supported the Taliban insurgency against the North Atlantic Treaty Organization forces in Afghanistan. He is survived by a widow and three children.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 20 August 2015 | Permalink

German spies helped US find bin Laden, claims German newspaper

BND headquarters in BerlinBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org
German intelligence gave the United States a tip of “fundamental importance” about the whereabouts of al-Qaeda founder Osama bin Laden, which helped the Americans locate him in Pakistan, according to a German media report. Germany’s leading tabloid newspaper, Bild am Sontag, said in its Sunday edition that the tip allowed the Central Intelligence Agency to corroborate separate intelligence tips pointing to the possibility that the wanted Saudi terrorist may have been hiding in the Pakistani city of Abbottabad. Citing an unnamed “American intelligence official”, Bild said the tip was given to the CIA by its German equivalent, the Bundesnachrichtendienst, known in Germany as BND. It said the critical information originated from an agent handled by the BND inside Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence directorate (ISI). The agent was an officer of the ISI but had secretly worked as an agent of the BND “for years”, said the German newspaper.

The tip was eventually communicated by the Germans to the CIA, and was used by the American agency to corroborate information from a number of other sources, which eventually led to the decision to send a Special Forces team to kill the al-Qaeda leader. According to the German paper, the CIA was already leaning toward the view that bin Laden was hiding in Abbottabad. However, the BND tip was “of fundamental importance” in enabling the CIA to make up its mind as to bin Laden’s whereabouts, said Bild. Moreover, the BND’s Pakistani agent allegedly told the German agency that the ISI leadership was protecting bin Laden while holding him under house arrest. If true, the Bild information would seem to confirm allegations made by American reporter Seymour Hersh and security expert R.J. Hillhouse that Pakistani leaders had secretly imprisoned the al-Qaeda founder in Abbottabad. The Bild article goes on to claim that German intelligence used its Bad Aibling Station listening posts to monitor the Pakistani government’s communications so as to help ensure that the planned American attack on bin Laden’s compound was not being anticipated by Islamabad.

However, in reporting on Bild’s allegations, German newsmagazine Der Spiegel questions the validity of the tabloid newspaper’s argument. Why, it asks, would the BND’s Pakistani agent approach his German handlers with the information about bin Laden’s whereabouts, instead of going directly to the Americans? Had the agent followed the latter course of action, he or she could have been able to claim the lucrative reward offered by the US Department of State in exchange for information that would help locate the al-Qaeda founder.

Hersh: Pakistanis gave CIA permission to kill bin Laden

Osama bin LadenBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org
Journalist Seymour Hersh has cited senior American intelligence officials in claiming that the killing of Osama bin Laden was a joint operation between the United States and Pakistan. In a lengthy article published over the weekend in The London Review of Books, the veteran investigative reporter suggests that Pakistan had kept the al-Qaeda founder in prison for several years in the city of Abbottabad. Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate —known commonly as ISI— had planned to turn bin Laden over to the US in its own time, in a quid-pro-quo move. But the Pakistanis’ plan had to be scrapped when bin Laden’s hideout was betrayed to the Central Intelligence Agency by a former ISI officer, says Hersh. His assertion agrees with previous accounts of the US raid against bin Laden, offered by security expert R.J. Hillhouse in 2011, and earlier this year by Lt. Gen. Asad Durrani, who led the ISI from 1990 to 1992.

The unnamed sources behind Hersh’s claims are an American “retired senior intelligence official” who was privy to early intelligence concerning bin Laden’s compound in Pakistan. Hersh also cites “information from inside Pakistan”, as well as two other sources from America, who have been “longtime consultants to the [US] Special Operations Command”.

The initial tip about bin Laden’s whereabouts came to the CIA in the form of a ‘walk-in’ —a term used to denote someone who voluntarily contacts an intelligence outpost, usually by simply walking into an embassy or consulate and asking to speak to the intelligence officer on duty. Hersh says the walk-in was a former high official in the ISI, who told the Agency’s Islamabad station that he could lead them to the al-Qaeda founder’s location. The retired official was successfully polygraphed and was eventually able to claim the $25 million reward offered by the US Department of State for bin Laden’s head. He and his family are now living in the Washington, DC, area, says Hersh.

The walk-in told the CIA that the compound in Abbottabad where bin Laden was living was “not an armed enclave”, as Langley had initially assumed. Instead it was a prison and was under the complete control of the ISI. The latter had managed to capture bin Laden in the Hindu Kush Mountains in 2006, by paying off some of the local tribesmen who were sheltering him. Hersh also reiterates information previously reported by intelNews, namely that the government of Saudi Arabia had entered into an agreement with Islamabad to finance the construction and maintenance of bin Laden’s prison-compound in Abbottabad.

According to Hersh, the US government eventually informed Pakistan that it had uncovered and was incessantly monitoring bin Laden’s location. Along with threats, Washington offered the ISI commanders, who were in charge of bin Laden’s security, “under-the-table personal incentives” to agree to stand aside during a US raid on the compound. Under the final agreement, struck at the end of January 2011, the Americans promised to send in a small force that would kill bin Laden, thus sparing Islamabad and Riyadh the embarrassment of the al-Qaeda founder speaking out about his previously close relations with both governments. The Pakistanis even provided the CIA with accurate architectural diagrams of the compound. Accordingly, when the US forces went into Abbottabad in May of that year, “they knew where the target was —third floor, second door on the right”, says the retired US intelligence official quoted by Hersh.

The veteran journalist adds that the American planners of the operation knew well that bin Laden had been held in virtual isolation from the outside world for years, and that he was not “running a command center for al-Qaeda operations” from Abbottabad, as the White House later claimed. Consequently, the stories about “garbage bags full of computers and storage devices” that the US Navy SEALs brought back from the compound were false. Some of the SEALs took with them some books and papers found in bin Laden’s bedroom. But most of the material that was eventually acquired by the CIA was voluntarily provided to the Americans by the Pakistanis, who took control of the compound immediately after the SEALs left and eventually razed it.

Ex-spy chief says Pakistan probably knew bin Laden’s whereabouts

Osama bin LadenBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org
A former director of Pakistan’s all-powerful national intelligence agency has said that senior officials in Pakistan were probably aware that Osama bin Laden was living in the country prior to his assassination. Lieutenant General Asad Durrani led the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) from 1990 to 1992. He was later appointed Pakistan’s ambassador to Germany, from 1994 to 1997, and then to Saudi Arabia until 2002.

Durrani was asked during an appearance on Al-Jazeera’s flagship interview program Head to Head, on Tuesday, whether he believed that the al-Qaeda founder could have been living in Pakistan for several years without the ISI knowing about it. The former spy chief said he had no specific information on the issue. He added, however, that although “it is quite possible that [the ISI] did not know”, his personal assessment was that “it was more probable that they did”.

The former ISI strongman was then asked why the ISI would have chosen to shelter bin Laden instead of delivering him to the Americans. He responded that “the idea was that at the right time his location would be revealed” to Washington. He added that “the right time” would have depended on when Islamabad could have received “the necessary quid pro quo”. Speaking with characteristic frankness, Durrani said that “if you have someone like Osama bin Laden, you are not going to simply hand him over to the United States” without asking for something in return. In the case of Pakistan, the reward would possibly have been a bilateral agreement between the US and Pakistan to give the latter greater say over America’s dealings with neighboring Afghanistan.